Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Churchill: A Conflicted Legacy

“Churchill in the House of Commons”. A charcoal drawing of Sir Winston Churchill by Gerald Scarfe capturing him in his final appearance in Parliament in July 1964.  

The figure of Winston Churchill has for long stood high among those persons considered by his countrymen to be among the greatest ever produced by England. For many, he is the embodiment of the “bulldog spirit”, a peculiar but formidable brand of tenacity that characterises British resolve and valour. His dexterous use of the English language is viewed as having conveyed both wisdom and poeticism. That his words inspired a nation and its empire to successfully resist the threat of Nazi domination is to his defenders beyond doubt. In short, in the collective imagination of a preponderance of his people, Churchill is the greatest ever Briton.

But there is dissent.

Churchill, of course, has always had his detractors. During the earlier period of his career as a politician, he earned the unenviable reputation of a political turncoat and opportunist. He was also widely perceived as a warmonger. And his personal flaws of being prone to drink and depression, as well as having a tendency towards misogyny are acknowledged even by his most ardent supporters.

It goes further. For some, the sins of Winston Churchill are innumerable: the Bengal Famine, the firestorm that consumed Dresden and the brutality meted out by colonial enforcers against the indigenous populace during the Mau Mau insurrection are often put forward as evidence of his crimes against humanity.

To critics, his racism was evident by his admission that genocide against non-whites such as the Australian aboriginals and the indigenous American nations was justifiable because white people by possessing a “higher form of culture” were doing the killing. He also admitted that the exploitation of Persian oil helped the British ruling classes live very comfortably during the 1920s.

What is more, far from hailing him as the man who did most to preserve and protect Britain from foreign conquest, some adamantly hold him to be responsible for the loss of empire and the extension of Soviet power into eastern Europe.

Those who challenge long-held assumptions about Churchill speak from different ideological perspectives: some as modern anti-racists and anti-imperialists, some as socialist pacifists, some as conservative realists and some as white identitarians. Others proclaim themselves as being fueled not by an ideological agenda but by the need to necessarily recalibrate contemporary perspectives as a result of objective historical inquiry.

Sometimes there is a coalescence of critique, albeit that there is divergence in motive and rationale. It was while writing as a humanist and self-proclaimed socialist that the actor Richard Burton in 1974 excoriated Churchill in a written piece for the New York Times as a genocidist who once threatened to wipe out every Japanese man, woman and child. Those on the extreme right, as well as new converts to white racial identity politics consider the Dresden bombings to have been a holocaust perpetrated by one white nation against another which served little end. It is from this school of thought that Churchill as the perpetually indebted servant of “Jewish interests” helped bring about an unnecessary war with Germany when both ought to have stood together against the menace posed by Soviet Bolshevism. Germany, they remind had offered a peace pact with Britain through which it could keep its empire while giving Hitler a “free hand” in eastern Europe.

But what of the argument of presentism? His defenders see Churchill as a man who is being judged according to modern standards, that his racial, gender and imperialistic attitudes were simply a reflection of the prevalent mores of the times in which he lived. There is of course a great deal of truth to this. Yet, so far as his lust for war and interventionism is concerned, his record can be set against those of his contemporaries and be seen as one which nonetheless stands apart from others.

From the time of his early adulthood to his mature years, Churchill would consistently and enthusiastically advocate the violent approach in extending British influence and in putting down the aspirations of liberty held by millions of native peoples who lived under British rule. Domestically too, he promoted the use of authoritarian methods to deal with civil disobedience.

It is clear that these less flattering traits and deeds of Churchill need airing. And they need not be part of a wider “culture war” or ideological dispute. Many of his critics will willingly admit to admiring his strength of character and strategic vision, a far cry from the lightweight politicians who permeate the national and international stage today. Addressing this point, a few years ago the veteran journalist Robert Fisk reminded an interviewer that in 1941, prior to the Wehrmacht’s invasion of the Soviet Union, when Britain was still the sole European nation fighting Nazi Germany and still under the threat of German occupation, Churchill set up a government committee to organise the post-war occupation of Germany.

Oliver Cromwell arguably had a greater personal impact on the evolution of Britain; a span encompassing the political, military and social spheres. His triumph over the King against whom he sanctioned an act of regicide provided the basis of Parliamentary sovereignty which forms the dominant pillar of Britain’s constitutional system. A man with limited or no actual military experience prior to the English Civil War, he rose up the ranks to become a general who contributed to key victories against the monarch, transforming a rag-tag band of peasants into the formidable New Model Army. He also brought about an unprecedented measure of religious liberty to the country. Yet, to many Britons, Churchill’s perceived role in salvaging a nation imperilled by Nazi conquest automatically trumps the achievement of any Briton before or after.

There is a logic to this thinking which continues to assure Churchill’s place among the pantheon of Great Britons. But to downplay or otherwise dismiss factual evidence of the man’s flaws does a great disservice to the need to constantly subject history and its main players to warranted scrutiny. It should not be a question of marking Churchill’s legacy as being solely that of a racist and imperialist villain on the one hand or an awe inspiring and decisive war-time leader on the other.

Both views are true and need not obviate the other.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Boxing and Pan-Africanism: Kwame Nkrumah meets Roy Ankrah

Roy Ankrah (Left) the featherweight champion of the British Empire with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, leader of the independence movement of the Gold Coast which later became Ghana. (CREDIT: James Barnor)

African boxing and boxers merged into the consciousness of the different societies fighting for liberation from colonial control and as such the careers of the most successful ones became entwined with the nationalist sentiments of the day as the connection between Roy Ankrah’s British Empire title win and Kwame Nkrumah’s release from British detention showed.

- Excerpt from “The Africans: Boxing and Africa” by Adeyinka Makinde, Chapter 8 of the Cambridge Companion to Boxing.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is also a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Jose Torres (1965): A Film by Hiroshi Teshigahara

Jose Torres with his mentor Cus D’Amato, the man he credited with creating him as a fighter

Original Title: Jose Torres II
Year: 1965
Running Time: 58 min
Country: Japan
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Screenwriter: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Music: Toru Takemitsu
Cinematography: Marvin E. Newman (B&W)
Cast: Jose Torres, Cus D’Amato
Producer: Teshigahara Productions
Genre: Documentary | Biography | Boxing | Half-length Film | Sports Documentaries

Synopsis/Plot:

This is the sequel to Jose Torres (1959), the portrayal of Puerto Rican boxer Jose Torres, who won a silver medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. We follow Torres from his training in preparation to challenge light-heavyweight champion Wilie Pestrano, to the match and Torres’ victory in 1965. The contrast between the nervous Torres before the match, filmed in painstaking detail, and the first round, filmed in one shot, is striking.

The aforementioned information is reproduced from the website of Film Affinity.

Adeyinka Makinde is a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing. One of his two contributions is Chapter 19, “Jose Torres: The Boxer as Writer”.


Jose Torres (1959): A Film by Hiroshi Teshigahara

A young Jose Torres strikes a pose.

Original Title: Jose Torres
Year: 1959
Running Time: 25 min
Country: Japan
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Screenwriter: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Music: Toru Takemitsu
Cinematography: Hiroshi Teshigahara (B&W)
Cast: Jose Torres, Cus D’Amato
Producer: Teshigahara Productions
Genre: Documentary | Biography | Boxing | Half-length Film | Sports Documentaries

Synopsis/Plot:

Teshigahara studied under Kamei Fumio and demonstrated his belief that documentary is a subjective creation by its director in his short film Jose Torres (1959). His subsequent documentaries and dramatic features have been stripped of all trace of the emotion and lyricism that could have accompanied the creation of such dramatically-composed works from the clearly-defined perspective of the filmmaker. The filmmaker uses his aesthetic sense to pick out fragments of reality, the recombination of which transforms abstract concepts into images. These unique qualities of Teshigahara’s filmmaking polish his subjects’ beauty further without making any concessions to commercialism, thanks perhaps in part to Teshigahara’s position as the head of the Sogetsu school of Japanese flower arrangement. Endowed with both a gift and the environment in which to express it, Teshigahara was in as sense a fortunate, pure-cultured successor to postwar avant-garde art.

The aforementioned information is reproduced from the website of Film Affinity.

Adeyinka Makinde is a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing. One of his two contributions is Chapter 19, “Jose Torres: The Boxer as Writer”.


Jose Torres: Honoured by a Legislative Resolution of the New York State Senate on February 9th 2009

Jose Torres (1936-2009): Olympic boxer, world boxing Champion, author, activist and boxing administrator.

The following is the text of a legislative resolution passed by the New York State Senate on February 9th 2009 after the death of Jose Torres:

J207

LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION mourning the death of Boxing Hall of Famer and Ambassador Jose Torres, distinguished citizen and devoted member of his community.

WHEREAS, It is the custom of this Legislative Body to pay tribute to citizens of the State of New York whose lifework and civic endeavor served to enhance the quality of life in their communities and the great State of New York; and

WHEREAS, Jose “Chegui” Torres, a former light-heavyweight champion who became a boxing official and a literary presence in the sport as a biographer of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, dies on Monday, January 19 2009, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, at 72; and

WHEREAS, Revered both in Spanish Harlem and in Puerto Rico, Jose Torres was one of New York’s renaissance men: world champion athlete, trend-setter, journalist and author; and

WHEREAS, Fighting professionally from 1958 to 1969, Jose Torres had a record of 41-3-1; he captured the light-heavyweight crown in March of 1965 when the referee stopped his fight with Willie Pastrano after the ninth round; after three title defenses, he lost the championship to Dick Tiger of Nigeria on a decision in December of 1966; and

WHEREAS, Jose Torres was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997; he was the chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission from 1984 to 1988, becoming the first former professional boxer and the first Latino to head the agency, which oversees boxing in the state; and

WHEREAS, Jose Torres was the author of STING LIKE A BEE: THE MUHAMMAD ALI STORY (1971), AND FIRE ANE FEAR: THE INSIDE STORY OF MIKE TYSON (1989), and he wrote for THE NEW YORK POST and the New York newspaper EL DIARIO LA PRENSA; Jose Torres, a native of the Ponce, Puerto Rico area and the son of a businessman, learned to box in the Army and captured the light-middleweight silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics; he earned his first boxing paycheck serving as a sparring partner for Sugar Ray Robinson in 1957; and

WHEREAS, Early in his pro career, Jose Torres became friendly with young writers, among them Pete Hamill, who was with THE NEW YORK POST; Pete Hamill helped Jose Torres get a column in the paper, Jose wrote often on Latino community affairs; and

WHEREAS, When Jose Torres was introduced as the state commissioner in November 1984 by Governor Mario Cuomo, his guests included Cus D’Amato, his former manager; Pete Hamill; Budd Schulberg, who wrote the epilogue to the Ali biography; and Norman Mailer; and

WHEREAS, Jose Torres cited Cus D’Amato as “the man who created the fighter” and Norman Mailer as “the man who created my intellectual capacity”; Jose vowed that as chairman of the athletic commission, he would promote educational opportunities for fighters “at least so they can read their contracts”; and

WHEREAS, Jose Torres, a member of the athletic commission before becoming its chairman, had also been active in societal affairs, working for Paul O’Dwyer when he was the president of New York’s City Council and for Andrew Stein when he was the Manhattan borough president; and

WHEREAS, Jose Torres distinguished himself in his profession by his sincere dedication and substantial contribution to the the welfare of his community; and

WHEREAS, Jose Torres’ commitment to excellence, and his spirit of humanity, carried over into all fields of enterprise, including charitable and civic endeavors; and

WHEREAS, Jose Torres is survived by his wife, Ramonita; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution, suitably engrossed, be transmitted to the family of Jose Torres.

Adeyinka Makinde is a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing. One of his two contributions is Chapter 19, “Jose Torres: The Boxer as Writer”.



Friday, 1 February 2019

Stalin versus Hitler: A Test of Racial Theory

Iosif Stalin and Adolf Hitler: Mortal Enemies

The confrontation between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during the Second World War was apart from being a contest of ideological supremacy also a long expected showdown between different races. In this case, Adolf Hitler theorised the superiority of the German “ubermensch” over the Slavic “untermensch”. In his quest for Lebensraum, Hitler envisaged that the western part of Russia and neighbouring lands would be conquered and then colonised by German people. (A project formulated by SS planners in 1941 foresaw over 30 million Slavs being deported to the eastern part of Russia). Stalin responded to this in 1934. He was particularly prescient in his observation that the German racial supremacists of the Third Reich would be brought down by those who they considered to be their inferiors in the same way that the “inferior” Germanic Barbarians overthrew the “superior” Romans:

Still others think that war should be organised by a “superior race”, say, the German “race” against an “inferior race”, primarily against the Slavs; that only such a war can provide a way out of the situation, for it is the mission of the “superior race” to render the “inferior race” fruitful and to rule over it.

Let us assume that this queer theory, which is as far removed from science as the sky from the earth; let us assume that this queer theory  is put into practice.

What may be the result of that?

It is well known that ancient Rome looked upon the ancestors of the present-day Germans and French in the same way as the representatives of the “superior race” now look upon the Slav races. It is well known that ancient Rome treated them as an “inferior race”, as “barbarians” destined to live in eternal subordination to the “superior race”, to “great Rome”, and, between ourselves be it said, ancient Rome had some grounds for this, which cannot be said of the representatives of the “superior race” today.

Thunderous Applause

But what was the upshot of this? The upshot was that the non-Romans, that is, all the “barbarians”, united against the common enemy and brought Rome down with a crash. 

The question arises: What guarantee is there that the claims of the representatives of the “superior race” of today will not lead to the same lamentable results? What guarantee is there that the fascist literary politicians in Berlin will be more fortunate than the old and experienced conquerors of Rome? Would it not be more correct to assume that the opposite will be the case?

- Report to the Seventeenth Party Congress on the Work of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U. (B). January 26, 1934

When the Red Army encircled and destroyed the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad nine years later, it put an end to the seemingly unstoppable conquests of the German Wehrmacht on the Ostfront. It began a permanent slide in the fortunes of Nazi Germany until the Red Army eventually sacked Berlin and brought the Third Reich “down with a crash.”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.


How the Dead Shall Remain Dead (A Khoikhoi Nama Fable)


Heiseb said one day, “We are hungry. There is no food in this stricken region. We must move from this lean place.” He took his wife and son to a new country, where berries enriched the trees. He found them falling to the ground, red, ripe berries. His son ran forth eagerly to gather them; but Heiseb stayed him saying, “Ah no, these berries are for grown-up people only, and not for greedy children.”

Heiseb’s son said, “May I not eat them? See, I perish of hunger. Alas, I am dead!” And he fell down and feigned that he was dead. Then Heiseb said, “For the dead there is only burial”, and he buried him there.

In the morning Heiseb’s son, not being dead, arose secretly from his grave; but seeing his mother afar off he returned to his grave to lie down.

Now one day his sorrowing mother came to the grave, but her son was not in the grave. She sought him earnestly, for she would take him home. And she said, “Here, hidden behind this tree, will I await my son, for he lives and assuredly he comes again.” And her son, glancing around furtively and seeing no one, came slowly back to the grave. Then his mother, springing  from her hiding place, said, “My son, ah my son! I have found thee!” And with great gladness in her heart she embraced him. And when they arrived home she said, “In the grave there is life! Oh, the joy of it! See O Heiseb, our son yet lives!”

But Heiseb said, “I thought my son was dead, wherefore I buried him; but it appears he yet lives. Nevertheless, the dead shall remain dead.” And Heiseb arose and slew his son.

So it is that from that day men die and are dead; and in the grave is only death.

- From E.W. Thomas, Bushman Stories (Oxford University Press, 1949)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.